OMAHA, Neb. — This was not the sort of wardrobe change that would have been acceptable had it been executed by Beyonce or Britney Spears.
Mike Krzyzewski’s aggressive removal of his sport coat upon calling a timeout early in Duke’s NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 game against Syracuse was not graceful. But it was purposeful. The Blue Devils got the message even before he began a harangue in the huddle.
“Yeah, he ripped that thing off,” Duke senior Grayson Allen told Sporting News. “Some debris flew on the court from it.”
There had been only three possessions in the second half when Krzyzewski blew his stack: a short jumper from Syracuse guard Frank Howard and layup by SU forward Oshae Brissett wrapped around a missed 3-pointer by Blue Devils freshman Gary Trent. Krzyzewski had seen enough. He stood from his chair, called time and tore the jacket off his arms.
It was not clear if the item that went flying was a piece of chewing gum or a button or what. It was apparent why he was angry.
“I’d never seen him pull a jacket off that fast and that aggressive,” Duke guard Trevon Duval told SN. “When we see that, we get pumped up, because we know coach is mad and things aren’t really going the way he likes it. That kind of pumps it up to make us want to play better.”
Whether it worked could be open to interpretation, but there’s no disputing the final score: Duke beat Syracuse, 69-65, and advanced to the Midwest Region final.
It wasn’t as if the Devils came out of that huddle and tore through the Orange. They were in a one-possession game for nearly 5 more minutes, and didn’t stretch out their advantage until Allen hit one of his few 3-pointers — he was 3-of-14 — to push the lead to 48-39 with 12:36 remaining.
Krzyzewski was animated at times as he wore just his dress shirt, tie and slacks in the second half, but he no longer appeared furious as the Blue Devils struggled from the field – they were just 12-of-33 in the final 20 minutes – but prevailed when Trent converted two free throws with 6 seconds remaining and Duke up just a basket.
Freshman All-American Marvin Bagley led four double-figure scorers with 22 points. Allen did pass for 8 assists and scored 15 points despite his long-range struggles.
“He preaches to us that when it’s a fire, we have to put it out as a team,” freshman big man Wendell Carter told SN. “When we saw something like that, we all knew it was a fire. And we had to put that fire out.”